The piles of garbage bags filled with donated clothing and other items sometimes reach as high as the 10-foot ceiling in the sorting room at The Salvation Army in downtown Brainerd.
But soon the Salvation Army thrift store won't be short on space. In early June the thrift store will move to a new location on South Sixth St., across the street from the Holiday gas station in a former auto body shop. The building, donated by an anonymous donor, will triple the size of The Salvation Army thrift store.
The Salvation Army thrift store's busiest season is when people are cleaning out their closets and garages and getting ready for garage sales, said Kathy Rhodes, thrift store manager.
It's up to Rhodes and the other thrift store employees to sort through each bag or box, determining prices for the recycled goods, and then sending them off for sale in the adjoining thrift store. Donations are accepted at the sorting room entrance on Front Street. Opening the bags is the best part of her job, said Rhodes.
"Everyday is like Christmas," said Rhodes with a laugh. "We never know what we're going to get."
One of the most unusual donations she has seen was a guinea pig. Salvation Army workers thought they were reselling an empty cage in the thrift store when it was discovered by a customer that the cage's previous occupant was still in there.
No, the thrift store doesn't accept animals. Nor do they accept weapons, either. They've received those, too.
"I always tell people we need clean, usable stuff. No rips, no snags, no tears," said Rhodes.
The thrift store at The Salvation Army isn't only a place for people to discover unusual finds. The majority of the time their customers are those living paycheck to paycheck who need a place to go to find inexpensive used clothing or other items for themselves and their families. The Salvation Army also donates clothing and other household items for families in crisis.
Rhodes said The Salvation Army thrift store is currently low on good used furniture. One single mother calls often, searching for a couch, chair and kitchen table for her and her children, said Rhodes. Unfortunately, they have nothing for her right now, she said.
The donated clothing that isn't sellable is baled together and sold by the pound to larger companies in the Twin Cities that use the fabric for rags. Some quiltmakers also use the clothing to make quilts and other items.
The Salvation Army, which has been in Brainerd since 1891, started its thrift stores in 1896 in the United States. Salvation Army Captains Paul and AmyJo Ferguson have been the Brainerd unit's commanding officers for the past four years.
"Once it's finished, it will be well-lit, a professional retail space," said Capt. Paul Ferguson. "I don't see anything but good coming out of this. We'll see more sales and more donations."
On average, about 50 people visit the thrift store daily during its store hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Most days about $500-$600 are made in sales, said Ferguson. The money generated from the thrift store donations helps to pay The Salvation Army's six full-time and one part-time employees. It also helps The Salvation Army provide services like emergency food, shelter and meals in times of crisis and disaster. Last year the Brainerd Salvation Army issued $15,000 worth of vouchers for Brainerd lakes area families in crisis.
The Salvation Army will retain its current building at 208 South 5th St., where it maintains the food shelf, other community service programs and its church, which holds regular Sunday worship services.
"It pays the staff and keeps the lights lit," said Ferguson, of the thrift store. "Any extra goes into our social services funds."
The Salvation Army will host CHOW Time with the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce at noon April 25 at the new thrift store building, offering visitors a sneak peek at the new facility.
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